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Yodice: Football season kicks off with possible 6A title game preview

La Cueva’s Johnny Aiello, left, and Ernesto Waldo start the celebration as time runs out during the Bears’ win in the Class 6A state championship game last season. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

And the chase begins anew.

At three venues in Albuquerque, plus stadiums in Clayton and Santa Fe, the 101-day 2019 prep football season will go airborne tonight.

What drama awaits? How will the season unspool? What twists and turns will help shape and define the next three-plus months?

I’ve spent nearly the last four weeks previewing the 24 programs in the metro area, starting with Highland and culminating with No. 1 Volcano Vista – a surprise pick to many – on Wednesday.

The Hawks were one of 16 metro-area teams who qualified for the playoffs last year. That ranged from several No. 1 seeds (Cleveland, St. Pius, Hope Christian) to three 12s in Cibola, Del Norte and Moriarty.

The 6A field appears deeper and more tightly bunched – and thus, perhaps more volatile, which is a good thing – than it did last August. Cleveland and La Cueva always were poised to stand a helmet higher than everyone last fall.

To that end, the margin between the three teams I placed at the top of my metro top-five countdown – Volcano Vista, No. 2 La Cueva and No. 3 Cleveland – seems razor thin. Over the last five years, the eventual big-school state champion hasn’t been lower than No. 2 on my metro list, for whatever that is worth. (And it’s worth nothing.)

Each of top three has (at least) one significant question to answer in 2019.

For the Hawks, it’s following up their turn-the-corner effort that earned them so many deserved kudos last year.

For the Bears, it’s how new playmakers fill in on that fantastic defense which graduated four, first-team all-state performers.

For the Storm, it’s the productivity of running back Dorian Lewis, whose right-knee brace is a reminder of the ACL surgery he had last December. (And his success may be tied to an untested offensive line.)

There are lots of other interesting teams here in our own back yard. Sandia and Eldorado had changes to their coaching staffs, and I was impressed with both in the limited window of their scrimmages last week. Sandia appeared further along than I anticipated with new head coach Chad Adcox, while Eldorado flourished with its passing game, which I didn’t expect.

Rio Rancho is a team I’m fond of, but the Rams are going to have to contend with a harsh nondistrict schedule and hope they emerge without many scars.

Class 5A’s Los Lunas is loaded. The Tigers easily could hold their own with most 6A squads, but for now the road still appears to go through defending state champion Roswell. The Tigers are at the Wool Bowl to face Roswell in Week 4, which will add some clarity.

St. Pius had a quarterback injury that derailed its 4A playoff chances last fall, and the Sartans ought to be back in the hunt. Hope Christian was unbeaten through 11 games before Robertson ran roughshod over the Huskies in the 3A semifinals. We’ll see what they’ve gleaned from that experience. Hope has the same issue it did last year: a soft district that I thought didn’t have them as sharp as they needed to be in November.

Participation numbers have been a storyline this month. They are down (almost catastrophically) at Highland and on other campuses, too. One metro coach told me he believes Highland isn’t the only school that might see football vanish within the next few years, citing Rio Grande and Del Norte as two others.

Locally, Foothill and Mission Achievement & Success dropped football this year. MAS dropped all its sports, actually. McCurdy, Roy/Mosquero and Jemez Valley aren’t playing football, either.

But not everyone is wanting. Albuquerque High, West Mesa and Albuquerque Academy have reported a surge in football players. And for AHS and Academy, both are planning to jump back into a district starting in 2020 after being independent last season and this. That’s excellent news.

Also, it’s nice to see Reserve making its way back into the picture, after the Mountaineers dropped football last year. Reserve will compete as a 6-man independent.

Thinking big picture, who knows what will transpire between now and Nov. 30? That’s part of the joy, isn’t it, the unknowns in this joyride. We’ve run down the metro’s top players, analyzed the schedules, and previewed two dozen local teams.

The final two teams standing in 6A? Well, I had Cleveland and Volcano Vista in boys basketball, but both went out in the semifinals. I had Cleveland and Volcano Vista in baseball, which panned out. And Cleveland and Volcano Vista is certainly one of the many possibles this fall.

I wouldn’t discount a southern threat, either. Centennial was in the semifinals last year and won its first 11 games. Las Cruces and Clovis should be stronger. Mayfield definitely should be stronger and, like Eldorado and Sandia, is an intriguing team worth watching, one that might become a certified dark horse.

But this is the final pairing in 6A I like the most, even if I’m less certain than I was when I picked Cleveland-La Cueva 12 months ago:

Volcano Vista-La Cueva.

Which is exactly how we’ll begin things tonight at Nusenda Community Stadium.

Step up to the buffet, folks. The 2019 season is open for business.

 

WEEK 1 SCHEDULE

Thursday, Aug. 22

Albuquerque High at Valley, Milne

La Cueva at Volcano Vista, Community

West Mesa at Eldorado, Wilson

Clovis JV at Clayton

Cuba at Santa Fe Indian

Friday, Aug. 23

Centennial at Rio Rancho

Oñate at Cleveland

Atrisco Heritage at Mayfield, FOD

Del Norte at Belen

Highland at Rio Grande, Milne

Las Cruces at Manzano, Wilson

Sandia at Cibola, Community

Los Lunas at Piedra Vista

Valencia at Alamogordo

Bernalillo at Gallup

Moriarty at West Las Vegas

Albuquerque Academy at Tohatchi

Escalante at Tucumcari

Miyamura at Aztec

Crownpoint at Capital

Hagerman at Capitan

Artesia at Carlsbad

Hobbs at Clovis

Gadsden at Deming

Santa Rosa at Dexter

Lake Arthur at Elida

Los Alamos at Española Valley

N.M. Military Institute at Fort Sumner

Estancia at Hatch Valley

Tularosa at Hot Springs

Texico at Jal

Farmington at Kirtland Central

Miyamura JV at Laguna-Acoma

Mountainair at Logan

Wilcox, Ariz., at Lordsburg

Chaparral at Lovington, 6 p.m.

Melrose at Dulce, 5 p.m.

Newcomb at Navajo Prep

Shiprock at Pojoaque Valley

Roswell at Ruidoso

Raton at Bloomfield

Robertson at Santa Fe

Cobre at Santa Teresa

Carrizozo at Springer

St. Michael’s at Taos

Gateway Christian at Tatum

Socorro at Thoreau

San Jon/Grady at Vaughn, 4 p.m.

Grants at Zuni

Saturday, Aug. 24

Portales at Hope Christian, Milne, 1 p.m.

Goddard at St. Pius, Community, 3 p.m.

Carlsbad JV at Loving, 6 p.m.

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